Redistricting worries San Francisco's gay leaders

San Francisco’s gay leaders have come out against a proposal that could make it much tougher to elect members of the LGBT community into the state Legislature.

Since the early ’90s, San Francisco’s two Assembly districts have been split along a roughly northwest-to-southeast line. The eastern district captured San Francisco’s most gay-friendly neighborhoods, and allowed The City to elect its first gay or lesbian assemblymember, Carole Migden. She was followed by gay representatives Mark Leno and Tom Ammiano.

But the new proposed lines would slice gay-friendly neighborhoods such as the Haight from the eastern district; meanwhile, the district would pick up the Excelsior and Visitacion Valley — working-class neighborhoods  that have historically been less friendly to gay candidates.

The Alice B. Toklas Democratic Club and the San Francisco Log Cabin Republicans — two groups that rarely see eye-to-eye — have teamed up with several other LGBT organizations to fight the proposal. They testified before the Redistricting Commission this week.

“We love our straight allies,” said Scott Wiener, a gay supervisor whose district includes the Castro. “But we also need to have LGBT people at the table, and it does undermine our community’s representation when you start eliminating LGBT people from the legislature.”

The proposal has also positioned two of San Francisco’s most powerful political forces head-to-head: its gay community and its Asian community. The San Francisco-based Asian Law Caucus has backed an alternative map that LGBT groups worry could also dilute gay power in the city.

While the Asian Law Caucus supports bringing those central gay-friendly neighborhoods back into the eastern district, they have asked for others to be taken out — specifically, the Marina, the Presidio and Pacific Heights.

Meanwhile, they want the  heavily Asian southeastern neighborhoods of the Excelsior and Visitacion Valley to be placed in the eastern district.

This could increase the number of Asian voters in the eastern district, perhaps making an Asian candidate more viable in that district.

“It’s not a power grab,” said Caucus Special Projects Coordinator Carlo De La Cruz. “We’re simply trying to ensure that the voice of our community members are not diluted by lumping them together with other communities that do not share their working-class background.”

Alice B. Toklas co-Chair Bentrish Satarzadeh said while Asian and gay groups are often in alliance, in this case, her group’s job is to ensure that San Francisco’s LGBT community does not lose power in Sacramento.

“Our civil rights are at stake,” she said. “The highest concentration of the LGBT community is in the eastern district, and if we lose the neighborhoods as proposed, we can regress 20 years.”


Lawmakers’ odds depend on number

Worried that an esoteric district numbering system could deprive the state Senate of gay or lesbian members, gay leaders have responded with a slogan — “Keep San Francisco Odd.”

San Francisco’s two state Senate seats are likely to be consolidated by the California Redistricting Commission. But whether the remaining seat is up for election in 2012 or 2014 is undecided. Odd-numbered districts will elect senators in 2012, but even-numbered districts not until 2014.

If the commission awards the new all-San Francisco district an even number, the eastern half of The City, currently represented by District 13 Sen. Mark Leno, would lack representation until 2014. If granted an odd number, both sitting District 12 Sen. Leland Yee and the person elected in 2012 — likely Leno — would represent the western half of The City.

The numbers are supposed to be assigned arbitrarily, but the commission does have some wiggle room if there is a compelling reason.

To Castro district Supervisor Scott Wiener, the compelling reason is that the Senate could be without any gay or lesbian members if the number is even. Leno would be out of office in 2012, and lesbian state Sen. Christine Kehoe of San Diego will term out then, too.

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